your new favorite destination
It was immediately after my family's Thanksgiving dinner when I first logged onto the computer to see what special Black Friday deals might be happening in the airline world. Then, like an answer from the Roman gods themselves, roundtrip flights to Italy appeared from Portland, Oregon for $450!! The catch? Travel was limited to the month of February. Rome, in February? Is it too cold? Is there anything to do?! Like is it aeven a good time to visit?! The quick answers to these questions - Rome is NOT too cold in February, and absolutely YES there is tons to do, it's a great time to visit!! With far less tourists crowding the streets, discounts everywhere, and just as many awesome places to see as in the summer months, Rome is still that romantic and otherworldly beautiful destination that needs to be on your list of next destinations!
In this blog I will share some of my favorite spots around the city, from off-the-beaten path restaurants, great areas for accommodations, to what to see when you're in a pinch for time. Realistically, you could live in Rome all your life, go to a different restaurant every single day, and still not hit all of them after 80 years of eating and exploring. It may be next to impossible to see absolutely everything, but with the right information you can make your trip one for the history books.
Before We Dive In... Here's What To Expect
Every time I've been to Rome, I've had a completely unique experience, never similar to the previous. It's difficult to even attempt to define this city. So many come with such diverse expectations, many times it can seem overwhelming, a hot and crowded city overrun by tourists. Other times it can seem as if the entire place is made of magic! I have found that those who come with an open mind, humble expectations, and a lot of understanding, they are the ones who are blown away with the beauty of this city, and will never want to leave.
The Euro is universally used throughout Italy. Credit cards are also widely accepted, but beware that American Express is usually not. You won't have much use for US dollars or outside currency. In order to make an exchange, make your way to one of the many banks; however, the banks can be incredibly inconspicuous and a bit difficult to find within the narrow labyrinth of streets. Locate and mark bank locations on Google or Apple Maps before you arrive to the city, (or ask your accommodation where the closest bank ATM may be). I highly recommend bringing a travel Visa or Mastercard with no international-use fees, and withdraw Euros from a bank ATM while in the city. You will get the best exchange rate at bank ATMs. Watch out for alternative ATMs usually placed in high-traffic tourist areas. These tend to have exorbitant transaction fees from $8 to $15 per transaction! It's very important to have a some euros on hand, as some venders won't accept card.
Rome is a melting pot of international culture. Yes, there are many Italians, but sometimes it can seem as if there are more tourists and expats than locals. You will see this especially during the peak travel seasons April through June & September through October. It's important to be aware that Italians who live within the city spend their lives around tourists every single day. One could understand how annoying that would be. Try not to be dismayed by the quick and abrupt nature of Italians navigating the streets by car, bike, Vespa or on foot. Most likely, they don't want to stop and chitchat. The ancient city has a ton of charm both on the streets and within many of its buildings. With an ancient city comes some outdated plumbing, electric work, and a few sewer issues. It's an experience of the senses in every single way you can imagine! The city was originally built over many centuries! They have even halted the extension of the subway system because every time they dig they find new historic artifacts! Construction sites turn to excavation sites!
Just off the coast of the Mediterranean, Rome has a temperate climate with hot summers and cool winters. The summer months average between 60°F (15°C) & 86°F (30°C) while the winter months average between 38°F (3.5°C) & 60°F (15°C). The summer experiences long durations of sunshine with occasional thunder and rainstorms. It can be a little humid, and the heat can intensify within the city. For the most part, the weather is actually very pleasant during the summer, as long as you like the heat! In the winter, it's not completely unheard of to have a dusting of snow, though this is rare. For the most part, you'll experience mild to cool days, with a little chill in the air in the evenings. I found it pleasant to walk around the city with a sweater and an optional jacket in the winter. Many days contain persistent overcast and sometimes a little rain, while other days have pure sunshine. The winters are very mild compared to the US and to Italy's northern Neighbors.
"Surprises" to be Aware of
Elevators - You will not find many of these in Rome. Be ready to walk a lot of stairs if you opt to stay in an Airbnb, hostel, and even most hotels. This is a small price to pay to stay in the action of it all. I once stayed on the 6th floor of Via dei Coronari and it contained the most beautiful view with close access to the rooftop garden! It was worth every single trek up those seemingly unlimited spiral stairs. However I will say that if you are traveling with anyone who may have a difficult time repeatedly climbing flights of stairs, be sure to double check with your planned accommodation that they have an elevator. Additionally, you will find that many accommodations will supply you with keys to access your room. There's likely a key for the front gate, another for your room, and maybe an extra if there's a secondary waiting area at the bottom of the building.
Streets - It can be easy to get lost exploring the streets (and actually I recommend getting a little lost exploring...it can be quite fun)! However, I recommend getting an international SIM card for your cell, or extending your service with your provider while visiting this awesome city. If you plan on doing a lot of exploring by foot, access to Google or Apple maps is exceptionally helpful. There have been many times I've almost missed my reservation to highly-sought restaurants because of the difficulty to find these hidden gems! It adds to the charm of the city! As you walk, also be aware of how many pets are within the city, and the poop they leave behind. If you're too locked into Google Maps and not paying attention, you will likely trip over a cobblestone or step into a dog's left behind surprise!
Where To Stay
This is an absolute no thrills traditional hostel. It is the original hostel of Rome. Located centrally, it's only 5 minutes walk from Termini Station. This is one of the most popular hot spots for backpackers and European travelers alike! Amenities like air-conditioning, and ensuite bathrooms to guest rooms. Plus, there are tons of nightly bar events, and a social atmosphere to meet other travelers. Pricing from €9.99 a night!
Also located close to Rome's Termini Station, this hostel brings a slightly more elegant and modern edge to the classic dorm-style stay. The design is quite new, clean, with a bit more space than it's competitors. For those looking for a more calm experience, while still having access to bar events and hostel culture. It's within a 15 to 25 minute walk to the Colosseum as well! Dorm beds from €15 a night!
Yellow has a ton of activities available from morning rooftop yoga, shopping with locals, and live local band performances. The hostel also offers many tours throughout the city. It can act as an all-encompassing experiential hub for your visit in Rome! Located on the north side of Termini Station, this hostel is placed just a little over 30 minutes walk away from The Spanish Steps. Dorm beds from €12.50 a night!
For a little bit of an elegant twist on your visit, stay at Mario de' Fiori planted in the heart of Plaza de Spagna. It has limitless access to the expansive shopping district from the plaza, from the Trevi Fountain, to the Piazza del Popolo, it really is located close to the heart of the city. However, hotels in central Rome of course can be quite expensive. If your budget is a bit extended, it is definitely worth checking this one out. Rooms from $125.
If you aren't thrilled about the hostel atmosphere, but still have a strict budget in mind, consider finding yourself an Airbnb in the heart of the city! Prices usually range from $60 to $115 a night to rent an entire apartment, and you'll be granted with the privacy of your own place along along with the overwhelming charm of staying in the middle of central Rome. This can especially be affordable when split amongst a friend or two! I stayed along Via dei Coronari just 10 minutes walk from Rome's living room Piazza Navona, and 2 bedroom apartment included access to the rooftop garden with an incredible view. Even in February, you can enjoy a pristine & peaceful mornings sipping home-brewed espresso and listening to the church-bells in the distance! It's enchanting to have your own place. By the end of the trip you I can guarentee you will not want to leave.
What To See
No trip to Rome is complete without first stepping foot into The Pantheon. One of the most iconic ancient structures in the world, and a defining piece to western architecture. You'll be amazed as you gaze up from the middle towards the giant oculus allowing sunlight to pour in. Doors open at 9AM daily (8:30AM on Sundays), so try to get there quite early to avoid the majority of the crowds in the afternoon! It is absolutely free to visit. You'll also enjoy the plaza surrounding the Pantheon with many beautiful churches and cafes to visit.
TIP - Stop by Tazza D'Oro just at the edge of the piazza for some of the greatest espresso in Centro Storico! It's seriously so freaking good.
THE ROMAN FORUM
For those who enjoy learning a lot about the ancient history of Rome, you will be fascinated by this place. For those who are less inclined to take hours and hours out of your trip walk amongst remaining structures and artifacts, you might just want to examine this from a distance or partake in a quick stroll straight through. The Roman Forum is free to enter, but there is a fee to pay to go up Capitoline Hill. At the top of the hill you'll be greeted by a fantastic view. For many, it's worth the extra money and the climb! There are also many tours that you can pay to join. These guided tours may give you a little bit more insight than just walking through, but do your research beforehand - there are some good tours, and some very poorly run tours. You can also see The Roman Forum from a distance on your way to The Colosseum!
Another quintessential historic structure that you must see!! For many, just visiting the outside and spending a little time taking selfies in front of it is the perfect visit. For those who would like an in depth view of the structure, you can purchase tickets to enter inside the Colosseum! It is fascinating to stand in the midst this structure and learn all about it's history, but it can also be packed with tourists. You'll want to make sure to get there early to avoid spending a over an hour in line to enter.
TIP - Personally, it was awesome just to see The Colosseum from the outside. If you're in a pinch for time, there's no need to dedicate half the day to a tour.
THE VATICAN / ST. PETER'S BASILICA
Why not visit another country wile visiting Rome?! Vatican City is considered to be the smallest country in the world. It is within 20 to 30 minutes walking distance from Centro Storico. As you make your way across the River Tiber, you'll be greeted by many buskers and street artists selling their goods along the bridges. In the distance, St. Peter's Basilica will peak overtop the other buildings. There are two main attractions, the Basilica and The Vatican Museum which holds the Sistine Chapel. In order to enter either, you may spend hours in line. Seriously, the lines can be ridiculous, especially during peak tourist seasons. You will greatly benefit showing up well before the opening time of 9AM. Final entry is at 4PM, and the doors close at 6PM. Keep in mind that The Vatican Museum is enormous, and it is easy to get lost. You could spend days examining the artwork there, it's really incredible!
TIP - To see the Sistine Chapel I highly recommend scheduling a special tour! My favorite is the Pristine Sistine Tour by Walks of Italy. With this special tour, you get an exclusive tour of The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel BEFORE IT OPENS. It is a priceless experience, to be placed face to face with one of the greatest works of art in the world. With this tour, you're amongst just a handful of others in the chapel, and you get a chunk of time to just be with Michelangelo's masterpiece. It's simply otherworldly.
This is one of my favorite places to just hang in the center of the city. Known as Rome's 'living room', you'll find two enormous and elegant fountains balancing the piazza on either end. Flanking the piazza on all sides are charming apartment buildings. Amongst the many buskers attempting to sell you random light-up-toys, eager waiters badgering you to eat at their special over-priced restaurant facing the center of the piazza, and many many tourists taking selfies, this is the perfect place to people watch. Sit down, enjoy the sunshine and relax in one of the most beautiful piazzas Rome has to offer. There are also many beautiful churches in the area including Church of San Luigi dei Francesi which holds a few works of art by Caravaggio including The Calling of St. Matthew, Matthew and the Angel, & Matthew’s Martyrdom.
VIA DEI CORONARI
Just off of the north entrance of Piazza Navona is one of the most charming tiny streets in all of Rome. Via Dei Coronari is lined with miniature boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants. It is quieter than Piazza Navona, and you'll be able to find some incredible food options, without the exorbitant pricing found in the higher trafficked streets. Have a little gelato at Gelateria del Teatro! Study the perplexing miniature figurine shops full of tiny statues representing medieval knights. And find yourself getting lost in the labyrinth of towering apartment buildings. There are some great Airbnb options, close to many tourist attractions, but just seperate enough from noisy and crowded streets.
Find your inner Lizzie McGuire at this must-see fountain! Walk straight up to the front, dig a euro out of your pocket, spin around and throw the coin over your shoulder! You'll make a great memory, and perhaps meet the love of your life, like Lizzie. ;) Make your way to one of the corner stores near the piazza and grab yourself a little Prosecco! You'll enjoy basking in the sun near the fountain, soaking in the beauty, and taking in a little bit of bubbly! It's honestly just the pristine spot to enjoy part of your day.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA
Just 10 minutes walk away from Trevi Fountain is the famous Piazza Di Spagna! On your way there, you'll pass by Rome's most expensive and luxurious shopping quarter. Gucci, Prada, Hermés, they're all there. Stare into the windows or hop into a few shops just to dream. I found a jacket that I loved, but for $2500, I made my way to the Zara & H&M around the corner! Once you reach the Piazza, climb up to the top of The Spanish Steps and enjoy the view!
TIP - It's forbidden to eat on the Spanish Steps. It's an incredibly popular place to meet, but no, you cannot eat your sandwich there.
THE JEWISH QUARTER
A little off the beaten path, but absolutely worth a visit! There is tons of history within this small neighborhood. Here you may escape the crowds, and also find something delicious to eat while you're exploring. The Jewish Roman cuisine special to this area are fried artichokes, or carciofi alla giudia! Not necessarily the spaghetti you were expecting - but you have to try this delicious dish! I made a reservation at Ristorante Piperno to enjoy what may have been the best meal of my life. It wasn't budget friendly, but for one meal to splurge on in Rome - this is an excellent pick.
I highly recommend this gallery for anyone who is obsessed with artwork and art history. If you LOVE museums, then this is your place. It can be difficult to access, as you must purchase your tickets in advance. This can be done through many vendors online. Entrance costs €20. The gallery is located on the north west side of one of Rome's most beautiful parks. Even just to admire the outside of the Galleria Borghessi, it is worth a stroll through this tranquil environment.
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO
At the south west end of Villa Borghese Park lies Piazza Del Popolo. Another beautifully designed and spacious piazza, flanked by restaurants and featuring an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center. Sit down on the steps and take in the beauty surrounding, then make your way down Via del Corso to soak in the busy shopping atmosphere. If you're feeling gelato, stop by Gelateria dei Gracchi just south of the piazza. For a dose of history, art and magnificent architecture, check out the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo and appreciate works of art by Caravaggio. The entire interior was designed by Bernini, Raphael & Pinturicchio!
TIP - Do not be fooled by the waiters trying to bring you into their over-priced restaurants!! Odds are that if a waiter is out on the street attempting to make you sit down, the food really isn't that great. Check out the Where To Eat section for my top picks!
CAMPO DE' FIORI
I was pleasantly surprised by this outdoor market. Full of affordable souvenirs, delicious food, and my favorite thing - FREE SAMPLES. There will often be several individuals playing music around the market, and you'll have a fantastic time examining the many pop-up-shops in the square. Book a walking tour, a wine-tasting tour, or take on Campo De' Fiori on your own! You really can't go wrong!
You will be enchanted by the winding streets of Trastevere! This district of Rome lies just over the River Tiber and is filled with delightful restaurants and trendy bars to enjoy aperetivo! After a couple drinks and some delicious food, make your way over the river to Testaccio, where you can party at one of the many clubs until the sun comes up.
Where To Eat
Rome is one of the food capitals of the world. You will never be short to find a place to eat. With so many places to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Before I went to Rome, I spent time researching and marking restaurant options throughout the city on my Google Maps. This was extremely helpful, as no matter where I was exploring, I was never too far from a place I knew would leave me happy and full.
Trattoria Lilli $$ - By far the best lunch I've had in Rome, let alone Italy. It's inconspicuous, and you most likely would never notice it if you didn't know where to look! Down some stairs, around a few corners, and towards the dead-end is this quaint family restaurant packed with locals. The service is incredible, and the food is superb. I hate to even mention this place because I've never seen tourists here, and it is one of those rare hidden gems that serves the greatest most authentic dishes at the right price.
Il Pastaio di Roma $ - If you're short on cash (or time) and still want to enjoy a classic Italian dish, do not fear, Il Pastaio di Roma is here and omg I love it so much I'm obsessed. Really, it's great. For as little as €4-6, you can grab yourself a box of take-out Carbonara, Amatriciana con Pancetta, Pesto, or a simple Cacio e Pepe. It's fast, cheap, and they make their pasta fresh in house. You will definitely not have the best food of your life here, but it is tasty, filling, and cheap!
Da Tonino $$ - A no-frills restaurant cafe just off the beaten path near Piazza Navona. It has some awesome pasta, and really is quite affordable! Eating here, you'll see many locals come in for lunch or dinner, enjoying an abundance of table wine.
Ristorante Piperno $$$$ - Elegant and exquisite bistro located amongst some tiny back-alleyways in the Jewish Quarter. One of the best authentic Italian meals you can possibly eat in the city center. Try the fried artichoke, a traditional delicacy to this area! The wine is pure perfection. Must make reservations.
Dal Toscano $$ - Within walking distance of The Vatican, it's a classic lunch and dinner hotspot for locals. Service is great, table wine is great, Italian dishes are great, but please - stay away from "American" dishes like chicken strips.
Old Bear $$$ - A rustic and hearty restaurant serving gourmet Italian dishes as well as a selection of plates from up north! Can be a little pricey, but the ambiance, service, and unique quality of food are definitely worth the visit.
Da Francesco $$ - Simple, straightforward, and delicious. This quaint corner location close to Piazza Navona features a great selection of classic Italian pizza and pasta dishes. It can get a little crowded around dinner, but you can drop your name at the front to make a reservation. It's cozy, filled with the scents of fresh pizza. For a hearty dinner that won't break your budget, this is an awesome spot.
Coffee / Café
Caffé Sant’Eustachio $ - In the little Piazza di S. Eustachio lies one of the best coffee shops in all of Rome. They roast their own beans! It's very popular among locals, and you may get caught in the midst of many rushing in and out as they take their espresso. Seriously, people mean business when they come here for coffee. You will not regret taking the time to check this place out!
Tazza D'Oro $ - Right on the edge of the piazza containing The Pantheon, this is one of the best places to get espresso in Centro Storico. Walk up to the bar, choose your option of cappuccino, espresso, or something fun - but please, don't ask for it to go! That is looked at as pretty strange in most Italian cafes! Your tastebuds will be overwhelmed with the creamy espresso. Enjoy a croissant while you're there!
Babington's Tea Rooms $$ - A traditional English tea shop perched at the foot of the Spanish Steps! This charming location is a great place to chill out, have some quality tea, and enjoy a snack before diving back into the sea of shopping around Piazza di Spagna!
Giolitti $ - High quality gelato with a wide variety of flavors! This is a great place, and extremely popular! Expect lots of people crowding to get towards the front of the line for a taste of this highly sought after desert.
Ciampini Roma $ - A very popular cafe in the midst of a busy touristy area, can act as a bit of an oasis with some incredible gelato! Coffee and gelato are quite reasonable, but some of the other food options may come off as a little overpriced.
Gelateria del Teatro $ - Many gelaterias focus on classic flavors of gelato. However, Gelateria del Teatro contains awesome and wacky toppings on their scoops. They mix it up a bit, and I love it! They even have a window facing into the kitchen from the street so you can watch the employees make the gelato and other delectables!
Wine / Cocktail
Freni e Frizioni $$ - Among one of the best bars in Trastevere! A trendy atmosphere featuring an amazing selection of wine and a variety of different appetizers to choose from. You can get yourself a cocktail and unlimited simple appetizers for just €8!
Gusto Wine Bar $$ - A modern bar with an industrial vibe. Cocktails and wine are reasonably priced at about €9. Enjoy a selection of pizzas, wines, cheeses and classic Italian dishes. Can get pretty busy, so it may be worth calling ahead!
How To Get Around
Rome is huge. And if you haven't grown up in Italy, I wouldn't recommend trying to navigate this city with a car. So if you can't drive, does that mean you need to walk everywhere?
Yes and no. Rome is very spread out, so it's not practical to walk to every sight that you want to see. There are great bus and metro systems to take advantage of, but you'll need to put in a bit of effort to learn how to work these in your advantage.
Here's how to get from Fiumicino Airport to Rome!
The subway line in Rome consists of only two routes - Metropolitana Linea-A and Metropolitana Linea-B. I've taken this affordable mode of transport to get me from Piazza Del Popolo to The Colosseum, but as a method to get back to my hostel or many other locations around the city, it can be useless. This is why many tourists don't use the subway system, it's simply too difficult to access unless you are staying close to one of the few stops. If you are staying close to Termini Station or another one of the stops, you can utilize this option for just €1 per ticket! There are also special day passes available at metro stops and news-stands.
The bus system is really handy, but can be difficult to figure out. Get yourself a route-map and educate yourself on how to get around the area. There are quite a few articles on Google that talk about navigating the bus system in depth. Once you master this, you'll feel like you're holding the key to the city.
There are plenty of taxis to choose from, though this can be pricey. And in actuality, taking a taxi might take you longer to get somewhere than an alternative method of transit. The traffic in Rome can be horrendous, so keep this in mind before hailing a taxi!
Whenever I've been in Rome, I've prepared myself for long days of walking. Besides, the more you walk, the more beauty from the city streets you can take in! If you find yourself in a bind and can't find a taxi or another mode of transport, Uber and Lyft are available in the city, although they tend to be more expensive than taxis.
Whether you've been to Rome many times before, or you are considering to go for the very first time, there are always budget travel options available. If you're looking for a cheap flight, check out my recent article "How To Find Cheap Flights" to make your next adventure even more within your price-range!